Ex-Prime Minister of Libya wins £65,000 libel damages from the Mirror for Gaddafi allegation 

In the High Court on 11 October 2023, Mrs Justice Hill heard that the Mirror had paid substantial damages, in the sum of £65,000, to the former Prime Minister of Libya. 

Mr Faiez Serrag led a UN-backed administration after the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. In an article on 23 July 2021, the Mirror had identified him as the Prime Minister of Libya “under Colonel Gaddafi” and claimed that he had bought a passport of the microstate Vanuatu to distance himself from that past. 

Mr Serrag brought a libel claim against MGN Ltd, the publisher of the Mirror, in which Mark Henderson, instructed by Hussain Haider of Lee Valley Solicitors, acted for the former Prime Minister. Mrs Justice Hill heard from counsel for the Mirror that it “withdraws these false allegations and apologises unreservedly to Mr Serrag”. By consent, she stayed the claim and ordered the Mirror to pay his costs.

MGN admitted in the course of the libel litigation that the article was defamatory at common law by conveying the meaning that he was Prime Minister under a military dictatorship and “purchased Vanuatu citizenship to distance himself from that disreputable past” and a further innuendo meaning that he was Prime Minister of “a rogue state”. 

MGN accepted that “a substantial part of the readership (in particular its more elderly readership) would have been broadly aware of the more notorious excesses of the Gaddafi regime including, in general terms, some or all of the matters pleaded” by the Claimant. The matters pleaded were Libya’s role in supplying arms to the IRA, the shooting of a police officer outside its Embassy, and the blowing up of a Pan-Am airliner over the UK, as well as the more recent brutal repression of its own people prior to being overthrown in a revolution backed by the international community.

Mr Henderson told the High Court that: “The Article naturally caused the Claimant serious distress and damage. The allegations about him were completely false. He had no association whatsoever with Gaddafi’s odious regime. On the contrary, he led a government backed by the United Nations and the international community which was seeking to unify the country and prevent further suffering to the Libyan people in the chaos that followed the overthrow of the Libyan regime. The allegation that he then purchased Vanuatu citizenship to escape his past was all the more hurtful and distressing as he had dedicated himself to attempting to rebuild his country and repair the deep wounds caused by the Gaddafi regime.”

This is the second vindication obtained by the former PM this year, after he successfully settled his libel claim against The Guardian for erroneous allegations published in two articles about him buying Vanuatuan citizenship, culminating in a retraction and apology by the Guardian and a substantial financial settlement for damages and costs.

As part of this latest libel settlement, the High Court heard that the Mirror has removed all reference to Mr Serrag from the online article and, in addition to apologising in open Court, had published a retraction and apology which stated that: 

On 23 July 2021, we published an article stating that Mr Faeiz Serrag was the Prime Minister of Libya under Colonel Gaddafi’s military dictatorship and that he had since purchased Vanuatu citizenship to distance himself from that disreputable past. We accept this was false: rather than being Prime Minister under Colonel Gaddafi, Mr Serrag was chosen and backed by the International Community to bring stability and justice after the downfall of the Gaddafi Regime and to lead the fight against ISIS. We withdraw these claims and apologise unreservedly to Mr Serrag.”